Monday, April 23, 2007

A Greener New York City?

On Sunday, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg unveiled a broad tapestry of 127 measures designed to create what he called “the first environmentally sustainable 21st-century city.” With admirable chutzpah while speaking at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, Mayor Bloomberg stated that the city would attempt to plant more than 1 million trees in the next 10 years, create a dual city-state fund of some $200 million to create a financing authority to oversee the completion of major mass-transit projects such as the Second Avenue subway, increasing the number of bike paths and cultivating mussels to cut down on pollution out of the rivers. More controversially, though, Mr. Bloomberg also proposed a three-year test of congestion pricing, which would represent a charge for $8 for cars and $21 for commercial trucks that enter Manhattan below 86th Street from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays (with any tolls paid deducted from the fee). Modeled on similar systems affected congested areas of London and Singapore, Mr. Bloomberg contends that congestion would be reduced and air quality improved.

"Moving to New York has always been an act of optimism," read the proposal, dubbed PlaNYC, in its unusually eloquent introduction. "To come here you must have faith in a better future, and courage to seek it out; you must trust the city to give you a chance, and know that you’ll take advantage when it does. You must believe in investing in your future with hard work and ingenuity. You must, in short, believe in accepting a challenge."

Though some parts of the plan strike me as easier to implement and more realistic than others, and though supporters of the process will have to convince the powers-that-be in Albany and Washington to sign on for sizable financial commitments (and add hundreds of millions of dollars to the proposed $57 billion budget New York City has for the next fiscal year,) Mr. Bloomberg's statement that “our economy is humming, our fiscal house is in order and our near-term horizon looks bright, if we don’t act now, when?” is a refreshing bit of reality injected into a political milieu that often seems to be awash in short-sighted politics-of-the-moment political ends. An American friend of mine in Rome writes to me that "city centers are renewing themselves without the bulldozer ( as in the 1960's) but this time with a paint brush, creativity and investment." On a glorious spring day here in New York, with the mercury set to climb into the mid 80s, who could not support the desire for a greener, healthier, more environmentally responsible New York City? With the city expected to gain about 1 million residents by 2030, now is indeed the time to look ahead to ensure its enduring viability is sustained for future generations.

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